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William Shakespeare


The people Hamlet has seen coming are Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo. He greets them politely, calling Horatio "my good friend" and asking why he has come back from Wittenberg. When Horatio says he came for Hamlet's father's funeral, Hamlet quips bitterly: "I think it was to see my mother's wedding." His joking leads him into a serious statement of his grief, and then to reminiscence, saying "My father- methinks I see my father." This startles Horatio, but gives him an opening for what he has come to tell Hamlet: "My lord, I think I saw him yesternight." Hamlet interrogates Horatio and the guards closely about the ghost, and then declares, "I will watch tonight," and

If it assume my noble father's person
I'll speak to it, though hell itself should gape....

(lines 267-68)

Hamlet sends them off, begging them to keep this a secret, and promising to meet them later on the platform where they stand guard. Alone, he briefly expresses his fear that his father has been the victim of foul play, and hopes he can stay calm till nighttime.


After the moaning distress of the soliloquy, Hamlet's behavior in this scene is something of a shock. He is poised, alert, articulate, and prepared for action; he seems to sense in advance what they have to tell him. Though cautious at first, he is apparently impressed by Horatio's scholarly objectivity and quickly opens up to him. Notice how symmetrically this scene is structured: First you see Hamlet at court with Claudius and his mother. Next you see him alone, pouring out his floods of melancholy. Then you see him with his friend Horatio and people he can trust. In the first and third sections of the scene his grief expresses itself in bitter mockery; in the middle section you see the melancholy that lies underneath it. You have now seen him matched up against nearly all of the play's major characters, and are fully aware of the range and depth of his emotions. His two decisions- to stay in Elsinore and to see the ghost- have set the two sides of the plot in motion. In his next scene he will meet the other character whose behavior has been puzzling, and the action will begin in earnest.  


[Hamlet Table of Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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